Canadian government says no to census compromise

Tue Aug 3, 2010 5:48pm EDT
 
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VANCOUVER (Reuters) - The Canadian government has rejected a compromise over next year's census that would keep it compulsory to answer some detailed questions, but eliminate the threat of a prison sentence for refusing, Treasury Board President Stockwell Day said on Tuesday.

Opponents of the government's plan to drop the mandatory "long form" census -- which asks some Canadians more detailed questions on their income, jobs and housing -- say they might be willing to eliminate the jail threat.

The Conservative government says the form is a invasion of privacy and the jail threat is onerous, even if the penalty has never been imposed. The census law also carries the threat of a fine for refusing to participate.

"We've been clear that we're opposed to the mandatory nature of this and forcing people by some criminal sanction ... whether that's jail or whether it's a fine," Day told a news conference in Ottawa.

The government will replace the mandatory long form, which in the past was sent to about 20 percent of the population, with a form that will be sent to more people but answered on a voluntary basis. The census will be conducted next year.

Most Canadians answer only the "short form" census, which has fewer demographic questions. The government has no plans to make that form voluntary or drop the penalties for those who refuse, Day said.

The change to the long form has drawn fire from business, social groups and some statisticians, who complain that using a voluntary system will skew the data and make it less reliable for planning purposes.

The opposition New Democrats said last week they would support dropping the threat of jail but keeping the form compulsory -- a compromise suggested by the National Statistics Council.

(Reporting Allan Dowd; editing by Rob Wilson)